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  • Caroline Nijs

Rise Up! Challenge with Shelley Paulson

Taking up a photography challenges as a ... new challenge


Being bombarded with the news that your husband got a promotion at work is awesome. Less awesome is hearing that the job is located in Switzerland.

The country is beautiful, we know. We’ve crossed it many times on our way to Italy. And many people who lived there, have told us it was one of their best experiences. So a shock, but not horrible, you'd think.

A little bit of nostalgia


Only, a few years ago, we built our very own horse farm from scratch.

We initially bought 23 acres, and apart from the building of the structure, we did everything ourselves: the stalls, the tack room, the pastures, … everything. We groomed trails in the woods. We started beekeeping, we grew our own vegetables. And we had many plans in the making. We had every intention of staying, at least until Aryn would finish high school in 2024.

Then last year, the 8-acre property next to us became available. It had a small house on it, albeit in an abominable state, but most importantly, some nice pastureland and more woods for trails. Perfect to add on to our existing property. So we did.

There were still renters in the house, which gave us some time to think about the destiny of it. When they left in May, we took a good look at it, got some experts in, and finally decided to do the necessary work to make it nice again. We waterproofed the basement, and put replacing the roof, adding gutters, and getting some necessary plumbing changes, on the agenda. The inside was still rather disgusting but we were in no hurry. Back then, we still assumed we had plenty of time to spread the cost of upgrading that house.

And I was finally gaining some momentum as an equine photographer, even in the horror year that 2020 has been.

So no, we had no plans to go anywhere, except maybe on a trip to Colorado to photograph wild horses.


Living in between


Anyway, there we were last August, processing the fact that those plans had become meaningless.

And even though we are only moving in June 2021, we decided to put our farm on the market as soon as possible. Because we were told this type of real estate can take a long time to sell. Or they sell in the first few weeks.

Guess what happened …

Don’t get me wrong, I prefer it this way. It was just not anticipated. With two dogs and 3 cats, there’s no rental to be found in Midland or its surroundings.

So we were very lucky to have that little house next door. Only, now we only had 4 weeks to get it ready for us to move in. So we put on our work gloves and took out 3 layers of stinking carpet, refinished the beautiful hardwood floor that we found underneath, we took out the ugly kitchen cabinets (but kept the vintage sink), gutted a filthy bathroom (and found a positive pregnancy test! 🤮), replaced disgusting light fixtures, and who knows what else we did, I’ve suppressed the memories. And except for painting everything white, we did it all ourselves. All while liquidating a 32 acres horse farm, sprucing up our home for selling, doing all the moving by ourselves, and most heartbreakingly, saying goodbye to our horses.

I can assure you, I had neither time nor inclination to think about photography.

We have lived here, in the little house, for about a month now, and I was still in that rut. So when I saw this 7-day photo challenge that renowned equine photographer Shelley Paulson was organizing, I figured it was the best thing for me to get my motivation back.

And it sure did!

First challenge: Black and white

Still struggling to find that motivation, I also lacked some inspiration for this first assignment. But our German Shepherd kept bugging me. So I figured she could just as well model for me.

I love her ears, they are so big and fluffy. So there was my entry for the first challenge!

pet photography german shepherd ear

Second challenge: Close Up

Some years ago, a friend gave me a dried bouquet of grain and fake little pumpkins as a "barnwarming" gift. I’ve kept it all those years in my tack room. Now it has moved into the kitchen.

The window light was falling on it very beautifully, and the texture and the lines spoke to me. I am lucky to have a macro lens (AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED0), which was perfect for this assignment.

macro photography of grain stalk

Third challenge: Far Away

Now here, I really struggled. It’s pretty boring where we live and with the pandemic, we don’t really go anywhere beyond Meijer. So what to photograph for this challenge?!

My husband had gotten me a Sigma 150-600mm (he found an excellent used one!) for my birthday, so I took that into our woods and did some birdwatching. I ended up with some beautiful images from red cardinals but, although they were much nicer, they didn’t feel “far away” to me. This one is not that spectacular, but I think it just embodies the concept of “far away” perfectly.

nature photography of bird flying away in the woods

Fourth challenge: Silhouette

I wanted to do something beyond the traditional silhouette of a person, or an animal, or both. But not sure yet what exactly.

We were walking in our woods again, close to sunset, and I saw the sun getting caught in these seed pods. Perfect for what I was thinking of.

Mind you, this image is almost sooc (straight out of camera). The only thing I did was edit out a couple of blemishes and crank the contrast up a smudge. The black background was not done in post-processing.


Fifth challenge: Framed

This property has three gorgeous old barns. And our barn cats still love us, or our food more likely, so they moved with us. Now, I couldn’t have asked Arabella to pose any better, could I?

Ok, I’ll admit, my daughter had been petting Arabella just prior to this shot. She then ducked out of sight. I had initially asked her to pose in the window but she was wearing this bright blue sweater and that just didn’t work for this image.

pet photography cat in barn window

Sixth challenge: Window Light

Given that it was a dreary day in Midland, Mi, this sure was a challenge.

There's a window in front of my daughter and one on her right. And still the light was very subdued. But I think it turned out nice: the light, the posing, they both scream moody. And that is just right up my alley.

portrait photography of redhead teenager

Seventh challenge: Shoot Through

Now what? I am not very creative with props. I am more a "what you see is what you get" girl.

So the first thing I did was take my daughter into the woods again, took some nice photos through high grass and weeds. The barn cats joined us so I got some cute ones of them too.

But it all felt too “over the counter”.

So I googled some, looked at stuff around the house. And I came up with this image. I took it through, and against, crinkled plastic. It’s a little toy horse that I had lying around, an iPhone flashlight on the left, a flashlight with tissue over it on the right.

I think it worked out pretty well. The two shadows ad a nice level of depth to what otherwise might have been a rather flat image.



And you know what. Shelley announced that she will be doing a 52-week challenge.

Count me in!!


Leave your email below if you want to know more about how we can create an awesome horse photography experience together!



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